May 28, 2012
Credit: Credit: Northrop Grumman
Robert Wall/Madrid and Amy Svitak/Paris
During much of the 1990s, NATO members mulled the fielding of a ground-surveillance system, how to spend money more efficiently, and ways to assuage Russian concerns over U.S. missile defense plans.
So what topped the armaments agenda during the May 19-20 Chicago summit of NATO heads of government? Fielding a ground-surveillance system, spending more efficiently and assuaging Russian concerns about missile defense. NATO's plodding may frustrate many, but progress made on the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) program shows that tangible results can follow years of talk.
Almost two decades in the making, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has finally awarded a contract to field the AGS capability. NATO has signed a $1.7 billion contract to acquire five Northrop Grumman Global Hawk Block 40s to address an operational shortfall identified years ago and a need validated during last year's air campaign over Libya.
Advocates of a more-expansive NATO approach to missile defense will take heart from the milestone, seeing it as a sign that the complex decision-making maze within the alliance can be navigated to produce concrete results.
In addition, NATO announced it had fielded an interim missile defense capability covering part of Southern Europe, including a forward-based early warning radar in Turkey. The system, which is expected to reach initial operational capability by mid-decade and extend to territorial defense of all NATO countries in Europe by 2020, is based on voluntary national contributions, including interceptors and sensors and hosting arrangements, and on the expansion of a command and control backbone capability dubbed Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD).
“The decision that was made here is to enable NATO to have the command and control of national assets that individual countries can contribute,” Ivo Daalder, U.S. ambassador to NATO, told reporters in Chicago May 20. Daalder said under the interim missile defense system the U.S. would contribute its radar and, in times of need, an Aegis-capable ship.
“Right now we [the U.S.] have only one ship deployed that is possibly dedicated to NATO,” he said, declining to identify countries protected under the missile shield. “By 2014 we should have about four ships into the Mediterranean. That footprint for the defense will extend to larger and larger parts.”